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So you had a bout of hormonal or cystic acne when you were a teen - maybe even just a run-of-the-mill breakout. Luckily, those days are long gone, but now you have the acne scars and hyperpigmentation to remind you of it (ugh).
These might seem like permanent and unwelcome ghosts of breakouts past, but they don’t have to be.
Here’s how to fade your stubborn acne scars for good.
Overall, the term “acne scarring” can refer to a whole range of marks that an acne breakout can leave behind.
These marks can appear as pigmentation, or as rolling, boxcar, and ice-pick scars, and any raised scars and patches of pigmentation can linger for months, even years.
That said, there’s an important distinction between a full-blown acne scarand post-breakout hyperpigmentation, which means that they each require different treatments. Let’s dive into the differences, then, before we cover the treatment).
Scars, on one hand, appear when people touch and squeeze spots.They’re especially likely to form on individuals who have cystic acne or significant congestion that was picked too soon and too aggressively.
This overzealousness damages nearby veins, glands, and tissues, causing the spots to scar. The scars themselves - the rolling, boxcar, or ice-pick stars we discussed above - are made of an overproduction of collagen that forms when then wound is healing.
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, on the other hand, is simply an overproduction of melanin that occurs as a result of trauma to the skin.
Hyperpigmentation doesn’t damage the follicle, so it often isn’t considered a true form of scarring. That said, like sun damage, the discolored patches can still be a major annoyance and something that most women want to get rid of.
The good news? No matter what post-acne woes you’re dealing with, there are tons of treatments available today to help you address them. Let’s dive in.
Acne scars are caused by too much uneven collagen production in the dermis where you had the spot. Microneedling can help even out that collagen by making small micro-wounds in the skin that force it to produce healthy collagen and elastin that will reform the skin.
If you don’t have ultra-severe scars, you could get a ton of benefit from a chemical peel.
Peels can even be done at home, and they can renew the skin’s surface and reduce the depth and noticeability of acne scars. Overall, you’ll want to look for a product that offers gentle chemical exfoliation with AHAs or BHAs. Our favorite for everyday use? Glycolic acid.
This will both slough away dead scar cells and kick-start your body’s natural collagen production.
Best for: Hyperpigmentation
If you’re up on the latest skincare trends and research, you know that face oils have firmly earned their spot as one of the “it” products to use. And with good reason. If you find the right oil for you, it can truly give you your best skin ever.
And yes, this applies to acne and hyperpigmentation, too.
There are a few things you can look for here. First, there are oils like tea tree oil that can actually help heal blemishes while providing antibacterial benefits. Similarly, frankincense can actually stimulate cell turnover, helping to heal and fade scars.
Overall, though, you can’t go wrong with a gentle, soothing oil that will rebuild the skin’s natural barrier and hydrate while soothing redness and calming reactiveness. This includes:
Plus, these oils can be used in combination with vitamin C, antioxidants, and calming moisturizers to brighten and protect the skin. Neroli oil even helps your body absorb vitamin C.
You can find a comprehensive list of face oils (and what they’re best for) here - and you can find a soothing neroli, jojoba, and marula botanical oil here.
Best for:Scarring and hyperpigmentation
Want something more intense? You can talk to your dermatologist about resurfacing treatments like Intense Pulse Light (IPL) and microdermabrasion:
Both treatments can be super effective at reducing scars and wrinkles. They can also even skin tone, renew dull skin, and increase clarity and elasticity.
When it comes to dealing with hyperpigmentation, vitamin C is always a great go-to choice. Why? This free-radical fighter is particularly effective at revitalizing and brightening the skin while stimulating your body’s natural production of collagen.
As such, it can both address existing pigmentation and prevent dark spots from forming in the future.
AHAs (like glycolic and lactic acid) and BHAs (like salicylic acid) can be used to reduce both scarring and acne-related hyperpigmentation. While they’re slightly different - you can find a full breakdown of AHAs vs BHAs here - both will promote a more even and clear skin tone.
Similarly, a combination of AHAs and BHAs will encourage cell turnover without causing the redness and damage of a physical exfoliant.
We recommend that you start with an everyday AHA moisturizerwith hyaluronic acid and glycolic acid: it’ll both exfoliate and provide moisture to the skin so you don’t strip your natural barrier or become too dry.
If your skin responds exceptionally well, you can kick things up a notch with a combination product.
If you’ve been on Instagram, you’ve probably seen your fair share of light-emitting diode (LED) light therapy masks and wands ads. They’re those very iRobot-meets-Jabawokee masks that are supposed to treat and perfect your skin with various colors of light.
The claim? That the LED infrared light energy can “awaken” your skin and cause it to react in beneficial ways. Fortunately, this is one of the “hot new trends” that actually really works.
One study found that light therapy “demonstrated significant results for the treatment of medical conditions, including mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris, wound healing, psoriasis, squamous cell carcinoma in situ (Bowen’s disease), basal cell carcinoma, actinic keratosis, and cosmetic applications.” What’s more, these results came free of adverse effects.
When it comes to acne and hyperpigmentation, in particular, LED therapy can treat loss of collagen, attack active acne breakouts, and prompt cellular repair, thereby helping your skin recover from breakouts quickly and more effectively.
Interested? You can buy your own LED mask here.
One of the best tools that you have here is prevention, and proper suncare can both heal existing hyperpigmentation and help prevent new issues from forming. Remember, UV exposure stimulates pigment production, which means that when it comes to any kind of dark spots, it can make things ten times worse.
Sidestep these issues by avoiding prolonged sun exposure and wearing a broad-spectrum SPF every day.